Bird O'clock

10 Stunning Facts About the African Pygmy Kingfisher

The African Pygmy Kingfisher, scientifically known as Ispidina picta, is a small bird that inhabits forests, woodlands, and savannas in sub-Saharan Africa. This bird is a stunning sight to behold, with a vibrant blue plumage on its back and wings, a rufous chest, and a white throat that extends down to its belly.

Identification

Field Identification

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is approximately 12 to 13 centimeters long, with a wingspan of about 16 to 18 centimeters, making it one of the tiniest kingfishers worldwide. Its feathers are predominantly blue-green on its back and wings, with a chestnut belly and a patchy white throat that contrasts with its black bill and legs.

Females and males share the same plumage, and their differences are not easily distinguishable.

Similar Species

The African Pygmy Kingfisher’s bright blue-green feathers make it a standout in its natural habitat, but it can still be mistaken for several other species, including the Malachite Kingfisher, the Half-collared Kingfisher, and the White-bellied Kingfisher. The Malachite Kingfisher is more colorful and larger than the African Pygmy Kingfisher, while the Half-collared Kingfisher is considerably larger and has a distinctive blue band around its neck.

Finally, the White-bellied Kingfisher is much larger and has a more bluish plumage.

Plumages

The African Pygmy Kingfisher, like any other bird, undergoes molts, which can affect its appearance and plumage coloration. These molts are divided into two main categories: the complete molt and the partial molt.

The complete molt happens annually, and it occurs when the bird sheds all of its feathers, replacing them with new ones. The partial molt, on the other hand, occurs at varying intervals and involves the replacement of one or more feathers.

The African Pygmy Kingfisher has different plumages in its life cycle. During the juvenile stage, the bird’s back and wings are more greenish than blue.

The chestnut parts of the belly tend to be more pale, and the bird’s bill is not yet fully black. The adult plumage is achieved after the first year, with the bird’s distinctive blue back and wings, rufous chest, and white throat.

Conclusion

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is a beautiful bird species endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, identifiable by its blue-green plumage, rufous chest, and white throat. It is commonly found in woodlands, savannas, and forests, and despite its small size, it is a sight to behold.

The species goes through different molts, and as it matures, it achieves its stunning adult plumage. Knowing the African Pygmy Kingfisher’s unique features, particularly its identification and plumage, is essential in spotting this bird in the wild.

Systematics History

The African Pygmy Kingfisher (Ispidina picta) is a small bird species native to sub-Saharan Africa. It belongs to the Alcedinidae family, which includes all the kingfisher species of the world.

The genus Ispidina was first described by South African zoologist Andrew Smith in 1834, and the species was named Alcedo picta.

Geographic Variation

The African Pygmy Kingfisher has a wide range in sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia and down to South Africa. Although its plumage is relatively consistent, there is geographic variation in some areas.

The West African subspecies (Ispidina picta lucifer) is larger and darker than some of the other subspecies in the eastern regions of its range. In contrast, the subspecies in north-eastern Africa (Ispidina picta minima) is smaller with a duller plumage.

Subspecies

The African Pygmy Kingfisher has seven recognized subspecies, based on subtle differences in size and plumage. These subspecies are:

1.

Ispidina picta picta: This is the nominate subspecies, found in southern South Africa. It has blue-green wings and a bright rufous chest, with a patchy white throat contrasting with its black bill.

2. Ispidina picta lucifer: This subspecies is widespread in West Africa, from Guinea to the Ivory Coast.

It is larger and darker than the nominate, with a redder rump and a less distinct white belly. 3.

Ispidina picta ophthalmica: This subspecies is found in the Congo Basin and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has a deeper blue-green plumage, with a buffy-chestnut belly.

4. Ispidina picta occidentalis: This subspecies is found in eastern and southern Africa, from Sudan to the Democratic Republic of Congo and eastern South Africa.

It is similar to the nominate, but it has a duller plumage and a slightly paler throat. 5.

Ispidina picta minima: This subspecies is found in Ethiopia and Somalia. It is the smallest subspecies with a plain buffy belly and duller plumage overall.

6. Ispidina picta stictipennis: This subspecies is found in Angola and Zambia.

It has a bluer back and wing feathers, a browner rump, and a less contrasting white belly. 7.

Ispidina picta somereni: This subspecies is found only on the island of Zanzibar. It is larger than Ispidina picta occidentalis, with a deeper blue-green plumage, a brighter chestnut belly, and a more prominent white throat.

Related Species

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is part of a group of closely related small kingfisher species. These include the African Dwarf Kingfisher (Ispidina lecontei), which is found in Central and West Africa.

It is similar in size and shape to the African Pygmy Kingfisher, but it has a distinct white forehead and black eyestripe. Another close relative is the Malachite Kingfisher (Corythornis cristatus), which is also found in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is smaller than the African Pygmy Kingfisher, with a bright turquoise plumage, black bill, and a white eye-ring.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The African Pygmy Kingfisher has experienced some historical changes in distribution due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Deforestation, logging, and agricultural expansion have all contributed to the loss and degradation of its forested habitat.

The species can still be found in many protected areas and forest reserves, but it is declining in some parts of its range. The expansion of urban areas and human settlements has also impacted the African Pygmy Kingfisher’s distribution.

The clearing of vegetation and the loss of natural water sources have limited the bird’s ability to breed and forage. Some urbanized areas have also created novel habitats, such as golf courses and urban gardens, that the bird has adapted to and exploited.

In conclusion, the African Pygmy Kingfisher is a small and beautiful bird species with a wide range in sub-Saharan Africa. There is subtle geographic variation in its plumage and size, with seven recognized subspecies.

The species is closely related to other small kingfisher species and has experienced some range changes due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Conservation efforts are needed to protect and restore the bird’s forested habitats and maintain healthy populations throughout its range.

Habitat

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is a bird species that is typically found in Africa’s forested habitats, savannahs, and woodlands. The bird mainly depends on water bodies and is found in regions with streams, rivers, or creeks.

The species may also inhabit man-made habitats, including gardens, parks, and golf courses in areas where natural habitats have been destroyed. The African Pygmy Kingfisher is diurnal and is commonly found perched on small branches above water bodies or on the ground, waiting to catch passing prey.

The species’ habitat is crucial to its survival since it relies on the presence of water and surrounding vegetation for food and shelter. Its diet comprises mainly insects, caterpillars, and beetles, but it also feeds on small fish, mollusks, and crustaceans, which are typically found in water sources.

Movements and Migration

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is non-migratory, and its range is limited to sub-Saharan Africa. This species is believed to be sedentary, meaning it remains in the same area throughout the year.

However, there is not enough information to confirm if the species moves away from its breeding location in search of food and water sources. While being non-migratory, the African Pygmy Kingfisher is known to be relatively mobile within its range.

During the breeding season, the species is widespread across its range, but its distribution is more unpredictable during the non-breeding period. The bird may be seen in higher numbers in some areas but may disappear entirely in regions without viable water sources.

The bird tends to live solitary, usually found alone or in pairs sometimes with offspring. During the breeding season, the males perform aerobatic displays to attract mates and defend their territories.

The male bird may also provide several food items to its partner while breeding.

Furthermore, the African Pygmy Kingfisher is known to adapt to new environments easily.

The species may be found in urban and suburban habitats but only if they have significant water sources nearby. The bird is known to feed on a variety of prey and is thus not restricted to any particular food source.

Therefore, it is essential to maintain the species’ natural habitats while also developing and maintaining novel habitats in urban areas as they are not limited to its natural reserves.

In conclusion, the African Pygmy Kingfisher’s habitat and movement patterns play a significant role in its survival in the wild.

The bird is non-migratory and can be found in sub-Saharan Africa’s forested areas, savannahs, and woodlands. Its unique characteristic of depending mainly on water bodies and surrounding vegetation makes habitat conservation efforts crucial.

Understanding the movement patterns of this species will improve our understanding of the impacts of human activity on its behavior. This knowledge is particularly important in improving the species’ conservation and ensuring its survival in the long-term.

Diet and Foraging

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is a small bird species that primarily feeds on insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, ants, caterpillars, and spiders. The bird may also feed on small fish, crustaceans, and mollusks found in water bodies.

The African Pygmy Kingfisher’s foraging process usually involves perching on a tree branch or a nearby tree and scanning the surrounding areas for prey. The bird has an excellent eyesight, which it uses to spot potential prey in the foliage or on the ground.

Once it detects prey, the bird moves quickly and snatches it in mid-air or plucks it off trees and bushes. The African Pygmy Kingfisher has a fast metabolism, a feature that allows it to consume vast amounts of food in a day.

The bird’s metabolic rate plays a crucial role in thermoregulation. The bird survives in its preferred habitat, characterized by high temperatures, by losing heat through panting.

The bird’s metabolism is so fast that it generates heat continuously, raising its body temperature. To keep cool, the bird increases its breathing rate, panting to evaporate heat from its respiratory system.

As such, the bird often stays in the shade to minimize its exposure to the sun, which could increase its body temperature even further.

Sounds and Vocal

Behavior

The African Pygmy Kingfisher’s vocalizations are high-pitched, short, and delivered in rapid succession. The bird’s vocalizations play a significant role in communication, facilitating mate attraction, territorial defense, and warning calls.

The bird’s primary call is a trill, which it delivers in a series of sharp notes in rapid succession. The trills are highly rhythmic and have a high-pitched, metallic quality.

The bird’s warning calls are also high-pitched, sharp, and short notes delivered in rapid succession. The African Pygmy Kingfisher’s vocalizations also play a role in courtship.

During the breeding season, the male bird’s calls become more elaborate, consisting of trills, rustles, and buzzes, each delivered in quick succession. The bird’s calls become more synchronized during these displays, with the bird often holding its head up at an angle and flashing its blue-green wings to attract a mate.

The calls become more distinctive, and each individual bird’s calls may have subtle variations from other birds within its range.

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is not usually vocal outside of the breeding season.

The bird is solitary and does not form large flocks, and it can be challenging to spot due to its reserved behavior outside of the breeding season.

Conclusion

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is a small bird species that primarily feeds on insects, beetles, ants, caterpillars, and spiders. The bird’s foraging process involves perching on a tree branch or nearby trees while scanning the surroundings for potential prey.

The species has a fast metabolism, a feature that allows it to consume vast amounts of food in a day and regulate its body temperature to avoid heat stress. The African Pygmy Kingfisher’s vocalizations play a significant role in communication, facilitating mate attraction, territorial defense, and warning calls.

The bird’s trills, rustles, and buzzes become more synchronized and elaborate during the breeding season, and each individual bird’s calls may have subtle variations from others within its range. The bird’s vocalizations are a crucial factor in its survival and are necessary to maintain the birds’ natural habitats and behaviors.

Behavior

Locomotion: The African Pygmy Kingfisher is a small and agile bird. It is primarily arboreal, and its locomotion is adapted to its natural habitat.

The bird is known to fly short distances between perches in a series of sharp, quick, and direct flights. The bird’s wings produce a whirring sound during flight, and it is meandering, quick, and direct in turns during take-off and landing.

The bird’s aerial movement is graceful, even during abrupt turns and hovering as it looks for its prey. Self-Maintenance: The African Pygmy Kingfisher has a well-developed preen gland, which is essential for self-maintenance.

The gland is located at the base of the bird’s tail and produces a waxy substance that the bird uses to clean its feathers. The bird spends a considerable amount of time grooming its feathers, which helps to maintain their shape and keep them in good condition.

Agonistic

Behavior: The African Pygmy Kingfisher is territorial and will defend its feeding and nesting habitats aggressively. The bird is known to attack larger birds that get too close to its territory, such as bulbuls and sunbirds.

Sexual

Behavior: During the breeding season, the African Pygmy Kingfisher’s display consists of trills, rustles, and buzzes, delivered in quick succession. The male bird’s calls become more elaborate, with each delivering their distinct vocalizations, resulting in a synchronized song.

The bird’s displays involve synchronized movements, with the male holding his head up at an angle and flashing his blue-green wings.

Breeding

The African Pygmy Kingfisher breeds in the wet and relatively cooler season of its range. The species’ breeding is restricted to its preferred habitat, characterized by water bodies and adequate vegetation and is solitary during breeding.

The breeding season covers several months, during which the birds pair up for breeding and care for the offspring. The African Pygmy Kingfisher’s breeding is characterized by elaborate courtship displays, and the males may provide the female with mouthfuls of food throughout this time.

The nesting sites are often in tree cavities, which are excavated and modified by both the male and female birds. The female African Pygmy Kingfisher lays up to six small and shiny thin-shelled eggs, which hatch after approximately 14 days.

The incubation period is shared by both the male and female birds. The young birds are fed with small insects and other protein-rich foods by both parents in the first few weeks after hatching.

The young birds typically leave the nest after about a month and start foraging for themselves.

Demography and Populations

The African Pygmy Kingfisher is a relatively common species throughout most of its range, but it is vulnerable to habitat degradation and fragmentation. The species faces threats such as habitat loss from deforestation, agricultural activities, and urbanization of areas around water bodies.

Furthermore, hunting of the bird for traditional medicines and ritual purposes occurs in some areas in the bird’s range. Also, climate change may impact the species’ survival in the future.

Recent population surveys suggest that the African Pygmy Kingfisher is stable or increasing in some areas, while its population may be declining in other areas. The bird’s conservation requires maintaining and protecting adequate vegetation, natural riverbanks and streams, and other wetlands and water bodies.

Regular monitoring would be necessary for effective conservation measures. In summary, conservation measures should be prioritized

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